Part 2

Feedback discussions - Mark McFall, part 5.

My reply to A Discussion With Steve Locks On Apologetics And Christianity by Mark McFall

  1. History so far...
    1. Mark wrote The Need for Quality Apologetics and asked for my comments.
    2. I wrote my Commentry on The Need for Quality Apologetics
    3. Mark responded with A Discussion With Steve Locks On Apologetics And Christianity
    4. I wrote the response below.

From: Steve Locks

To: Mark McFall

Sent: 20 January 2002 22:59

Subject: Re: It's posted

Dear Mark,

Thanks for your nicely written piece. I remain impressed with your searching through both sides of the argument and willingness to pursue discussions with critics. As such I'm encouraged that we can continue this conversation for as long as we both find it interesting. Your piece is nicely laid out and a joy to read, whether I'm in full agreement or not! So I appreciate your work and for continuing to give space to me, and once again I hope that any criticisms I may dish out can be read in the cordial tone I intend, although I fear it is hard when beliefs so important are being criticised. Anyhow, with your reading of the secular web, I'm sure you've coped with worse than me!

A Minor Typo.

You wrote:

<< If Christian leaders didn't pump up the evidence so high, then the fall wouldn't be so hard and dramatic for those that can no longer hold to those expectations. I presume that these type of wild claims to objectivity only *confirm* the thoughts of ex-Christians that Christianity is unattainable. >>

If you're quoting me here at all, then I think the last word is a typo - as I very deliberately use "untenable" rather than "unattainable." Obviously we were once able to attain Christianity (unless one is of the view that we weren't "real Christians") but even so, obviously many people do attain Christianity (unless nobody is or ever has been a Christian). That may seem like a very minor quibble, but I thought it looked odd so I hope it doesn't look like I'm being unduly picky.


Following on from this, since you mention "the evidence" all be it sometimes "pumped up too high," what exactly is this evidence, and what is the correct level for putting it forward? I don't want to bog the discussion down at this point with a whole load of issues we can discuss (like we did a couple of years ago) so some URLs will suffice for me and our readers to be able to judge exactly what it is that you consider appropriate evidence, sensibly delivered. I'd prefer URL's to books, as it makes it easier to find the information. However, if you are unaware of any URL's up to the task, then books will have to do.

If after reviewing this evidence I can supply stories from ex-Christians who formerly took such a line, then do you think this would affect your idea that it is too high an expectation that is causing us to fall? So far I have found people leave Christianity from the full spectrum of previous Christian stances, from the hyper-charismatic fundamentalist, to the philosophical liberal.


You wrote:

<< No matter what the supporting evidence may be for any particular event (miracles, etc..), it all comes down to a philosophical judgment, and not a historical one. If Steve is truly open-minded, then surely he can admit that his presumptions have no more validity than the informed believer who has come to trust the *general* sagacities of the biblical writers? >>

Two years ago when we first spoke ( I asked you that if Christianity is false, would you like to know that? To this you emphatically replied

<< Absolutly Positively Yes. You must be able to demonstrate to me that the historic Christian faith is false. >>

Do you still hold this view? I note that this requirement for historical evidence is exactly counter to your present assertion that

<< it all comes down to a philosophical judgment, and not a historical one. >>

For the time being I'll assume that you really have changed your mind. If you think I (and presumably also you) should surely admit that one's presumptions have no more validity than those of others, then how can belief be anything but arbitrary? What then happened to apologetics? If it is "truly open-minded" to equate all presumptions, then nobody (including Christians) has any more right to truth claims than flat-Earthers. Would you admit to being close-minded against Islam because of your presumptions against it, or do you think you have good reason for disbelieving it? What is the point of "the evidence" you mentioned if you hold that no presumptions have any more validity than any other? (BTW, what exactly do you think my presumptions are? - I feel I've had sentence passed without even hearing the charge, let alone hearing the evidence for and against my "presumptuousness!")

It must be remembered that I am, and my website subjects are, ex-Christians, so to accuse us of having the wrong "presumptions" or not being open-minded is hardly fair and of course quite false. We left Christianity despite our presumptions in favour of Christianity. Also contrary to your claim, it often was (particularly for the scholarly Christians) historical judgement that convinced us we were wrong. Look at what Gerd Lüdemann writes:

I see myself as being in the tradition of this school and practice a strictly historical exegesis of the New Testament in the framework of the religions of the Hellenistic period. My monographs on Simon Magus,9 the chronology of Paul,10 and anti-Paulinism in early Christianity,11 and a commentary on the historical value of the Acts of the Apostles,12 are evidence of this and have brought me international recognition. But in the course of my investigation of the resurrection of Jesus,13 of the heretics in early Christianity,14 of the unholy in Holy Scripture,15 of the virgin birth16 and finally, in the present book, of the many words and actions of Jesus which have been put into his mouth or attributed to him only at a later stage, I have come to the following conclusion. My previous faith, related to the biblical message, has become impossible, because its points of reference, above all the resurrection of Jesus, have proved invalid and because the person of Jesus himself is insufficient as a foundation of faith once most of the New Testament statements about him have proved to be later interpretations by the community. Jesus deceived himself in expecting the kingdom of God. Instead, the church came; it recklessly changed the message of Jesus and in numerous cases turned it against the mother religion of Judaism. (the footnotes are available there).

Does it all boil down to faith then? To repeat what I said before (which you didn't comment on):

Matt Bell claims that the bottom line is faith (fideism). The obvious problem is why *Christian* faith? As soon as a believer gives a reason then one is back to apologetics. Indeed, unless one merely continues as a Christian unthinkingly from a childhood upbringing then something must have convinced you to remain, or become, a Christian. Even if this was a religious experience you will have believed this to be veridical enough to have faith in, rather than it being some idle thought. Moreover you will have to claim that your religious experience is veridical whereas a Buddhist or Daoist's (or even an atheist's) religious and spiritual experience is not. Yet again fideism intrinsically contains apologetics if it is to be anything other than purely arbitrary. So I do not believe fideism is an honest statement of anyone's approach to Christianity.

The Why?

I agree with you that doubt has been a part of Christian growth for centuries. However the great irony of this is that time and again the greatest moment of growth is attested to be when people finally find their way out of Christianity. See

On my site I have also written:

Even within the Christian tradition itself, seriously confronting hard

questions, even to the extent of loss of belief, has been seen as extremely

important spiritual growth, all the way from St. John of the Cross and his

"Dark Night of the Soul" to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and

eventually Don Cupitt et al. St. Therese of Lisieux basically lost her

belief in God during her last 18 months. She came to "eat at the table of

unbelievers" as she put it. She also described how much purer her feeling of

love was when unsupported by the promise of future joy and glory. Eckhart

famously wrote "Man's last and highest parting occurs when, for God's sake,

he takes leave of God." There is a crass unspirituality in the literal and

somewhat material beliefs about the supernatural that much popular

bible-believing Christianity consists of. The religious mystics and geniuses

of the past have seen beyond this. Now that atheism is not illegal or

punishable by slow torture, what was a great discovery for the ancients

going against the overpowering views of their times is a commonplace

discovery for many of us who have "fallen from grace" and are able to

reflect on this.

As for doubt being part of Christian growth, should a Christian likewise see doubt in Islam, or Reverend Moon as spiritual growth in those religions/cults? Is the doubting Muslim/Moonie growing towards an ever deeper and richer appreciation of Allah/Moon as they pass through periods of doubt emerging with an enriched spiritual appreciation of their saviour as they drop the "false trappings" of their previous "pumped up" claims?

Is the person who best understands the divinity of the reverend Moon an old experienced Moonie or the deprogrammer? Is the person with the deepest insight into Islam, the Mullah, or the ex-Muslim?

A Little recapping (the asymmetry of conversion)

I found it rather bizarre that you think I have dropped my asymmetry of conversion ideas. I give this a lot of space on my website and make no secret of Jordan whom you would have found through my website anyway, links to him appearing on my start page and numerously in my feedback and asymmetry of conversion investigation pages. Add to this the extensive debate I am having with him (all of which is linked from my starting page) and it is manifestly false to write of me:

<< Steve no longer includes this line of argumentation. >>

Not only have I found and discuss Jordan, but also Dr. Garrett - who is also no secret on my site. Both were pointed out to me by a number of non-Christians and I have had lengthy detailed conversations with both of them on my website. After a discussion covering 35 emails Dr. Garrett eventually bowed out of our debate. Meanwhile Jordan is still on going and is the longest debate on my website, making Dr. Garrett's discussion look like a mere bagatelle! To imply that I have gone quiet about this since I have found Jordan is a slur that I absolutely do not warrant, given the extensive space I give both him, Dr. Garrett and further discussion. If you are still in any doubt then see etc. for Jordan and etc. for Dr. Garrett.

So I hope you will retract your comment << Steve no longer includes this line of argumentation. >>

As for the absolute numbers of church going Christians being greater than those in freethought etc. societies, I have discussed this already at

As I said to Paul Smith, even if it was a valid criticism that the absolute numbers are

bound to be different, it must still look odd when the local minister leaves Christianity.

The local atheist who joins Christianity is not quite the mirror image if Christ is leading

him to himself as it is odd that Christ would not so aid the minister, missionary

etc. I think that true proportional symmetry would only mean equality on both

sides if we were talking about something like conversion between political

parties etc. Once the divine hand is postulated, it is odd that Christians

leave despite so much investment and resources etc., even if all the atheists in

societies become Christians.

Remember, Jesus said "Seek and ye shall find." He was wrong, wasn't he?


Aside: BTW, Since Jesus was wrong, what does that imply for Christianity? As I discuss at the URL above, this is basically the "argument from unbelief" but focused on showing that the New Testament Jesus was mistaken, and hence not divine. As you will see at the URL above, some Christians attempt to therefore claim that anyone who leaves Christianity can't have really been seeking in the first place. As you will see there, such a claim doesn't stand up to scrutiny and since the only alternative is to realise that we sought but did not find (i.e. never attained "true Christianity" or eventually concluded Christianity is mistaken after years of Christian endeavour) then Jesus was wrong.

It should also be borne in mind, that as I discussed with Jordan, it isn't "activism" (i.e. being in a freethought society per se) that I am interested in but people with knowledge of arguments against a position before converting to it. Being in a freethought society is my first stab at finding those likely to be educated in arguments against Christianity. However, this is not necessarily the case. When I quizzed Dr. Garret on his background he told me that he "did not look into arguments against Christianity specifically" when he was an atheist or even as a member of the Australian Skeptics. Instead he was in Australian skeptics to combat creationism, something he still does as a Christian.

Since I think you might pick me up on this I agree that it is also likely but not necessarily the case that a minister will be well educated in the arguments for Christianity. However ministry usually involves training in seminary/theological college, so there should be a pretty fair level of knowledge of Christianity before deconversion! Add to this the fact that I have plenty of examples of ex-Christian scholars and the asymmetry gets even more noticeable.

You wrote about << far fewer atheists who attend organizations than Christians who attend church. >>

Again, I would like to point out that it is those are educated in arguments against a position who later convert to that position that I am interested in, not the unschooled. So the proportions to compare are not general Christians in church with atheists who attend organisations but ministers and theologians verses their equivalents in the world of freethought. None of us know the absolute numbers, but it is at least a lot less disparate than comparing general Christians against atheists in freethought societies.

There are a lot of scholarly secularists who go through and write for the secular web and to my knowledge none apart from Dr. Garrett have become a Christian and, as he admitted, he did not study arguments against Christianity whilst an atheist. This quality, quantity and proportion is in stark contrast to e.g. the proportion of bishops of the Church of England who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus and the fact that not a single professor of divinity in Cambridge is currently ordained (unless you count Don Cupitt!). See This is also reflected in the USA (see So it looks bad for Christians on the "absolute numbers or proportions" question, as the indications from this are that the asymmetry is the same on both counts.

As I said in my original letter on the asymmetry of conversion,

"I am particularly interested in the conversion and deconversion of informed people from both the theist and non-theist camps who are well aware of the arguments from their particular side, rather than the lesser educated public. i.e. the conversion and deconversion of trained theist and non-theist "apologists", as it were, particularly those for and against Christianity. So my question is: What percentage of your members leave your organisation each year because they convert to Christianity?"

(My emphasis for this discussion added).

True researchers

Regarding true researchers, I do not question your honesty. I once honestly believed Christianity to be true and I, like most former Christians, did not leave Christianity until many years with their many questions had passed. I have already commended you for your honesty in your research in my previous email and I wrote:

I do want you to know that I was impressed by your essay. I also admire you for the hard work you have been putting into checking up on your ideas and your cordial tone.

So it is uncalled for to suggest I might accuse you of not being a << *true researcher* >>. Rather I think you are mistaken, just like I think I once was and as I would think you see me. I think some people are dishonest (like Craig who uses purported evidence where it suits him and discounts it when not - as I discussed last time), but so far I have not pointed the finger at you personally.

You mentioned that you remain a Christian despite reading critical material. Reading material critical of Christianity does indeed, as you know, often lead people out of Christianity. Even so, the passage is usually long and tortuous and it is rare to find a serious Christian who deconverts without years (frequently decades) of struggle and varying degrees of on and off doubt. Would you really expect someone with a long background in a religion to be easily persuaded they are wrong?

That you can read the secular web and remain a Christian is no surprise. I have also conversed with Muslims who have read plenty of critical material on Islam and yet remain Muslim. I too read critical material and did not deconvert without a struggle. Before he even had an inkling that anything was up, Ed Babinski (author of "Leaving the Fold") exchanged over 300 letters with former evangelical friends, including such formidable adversaries as one who had read about two hundred or more volumes of historical criticism and was getting his Ph.D. in N.T. Theology. As you admitted, reading critical material and discussions with critics has bought to light mistakes you have made. Like Michael Goulder, it may take decades, or maybe too long for a lifetime, for the ex-Christian perceptual switch to click. However, it is striking again that there is an asymmetry between who converts and who deconverts amongst those who really tackle opposing views. On Christians vs. critics debate lists Christians occasionally deconvert, but I am yet to see it go the other way. Since the Christians and critics are numbered pretty evenly on these mailing lists this is even more evidence for the asymmetry of conversion on all counts. For examples of online deconversions, see

Objective Resources

You claimed that "The Anchor Bible" series and others are "objective resources which can aid in open ended research." You also appeared to disparage "quick-fix-it apologetic books."

Since this conversation is mainly about "quality apologetics" do you believe that "apologetics" can possibly be objective?

As I asked previously, why even bother to do "apologetics" rather than open research? To even seek for "quality apologetics" looks like an attempt to buttress a belief system rather than honest examination - a desire for dogma greater than a desire for truth. You said you are a true researcher and I believe your honesty, given your openness to examine both sides, but am distressed at the barriers "apologetics" immediately places on objective thought. Tell me why you feel you need for "apologetics" at all? If Christianity is false then you are going to have a tough time finding that out if you insist on apologetics - looking for reasons to defend Christianity against attack rather than giving equal weight to the possibility that the critics might be right. If Christianity is false, how are apologetics going to help you find that out? How quickly is a Muslim/Mormon/Moonie going to find out the errors in their belief systems if they write from an apologetic angle?

What is so wrong with a critical appraisal, just as you would critically examine another religion or world view? Why does Christianity get special treatment? Without equitable treatment it is no wonder that there is so much special pleading in Christian apologetics and why quality apologetics are so hard to come by. The very idea of quality apologetics is an oxymoron. Quality criticism and quality evaluation, yes, but quality apologetics is like looking for square circles. Apologetics necessitates special pleading, looking for solutions in one religion in a way that you would not entertain doing in an opposing religion. Hence apologetics has a massive logical error (special pleading) inherent its very practice and a quality endeavour it can therefore never be.

The sort of approach taken by the academic resource "New Testament Gateway" and the discussions found on Crosstalk (see the archives at get my vote at being at least pretty good quality and (often) as objective as possible!

The numbers game (...more on the asymmetry of conversion)

If I was just arguing on numbers alone, then I agree I would be committing a fallacy. However this is not my argument. My argument is about the asymmetry between who converts and who deconverts. i.e. it is the quality education in Christianity that ex-Christians frequently have before they deconvert. Is this reflected in those who go the other way? That is what I am trying to find out (remember that my asymmetry of conversion pages are described as an investigation - see Before assuming that Jordan is well informed one should first judge for yourself the quality of his arguments in our debate starting at

Was Dr. Garrett able to put a good case? See our debate

That Michael Goulder was a Christian scholar for decades before his deconversion should be seen as an argument against the security of Christian evidence. i.e. despite all that work, ultimately he found the evidence led him out of Christianity. It should also illustrate how difficult it is to find one's way out. Would a Christian consider the trickle of educated ex-Muslims to indicate the security of the truth of Islam?

As I said above, once the divine hand is postulated, that makes the asymmetry even worse. "Seek and ye shall find" = false. Michael Goulder sought for 30 years.

You wrote that deconversion involves:

<< a drastic change in attitude towards the Bible and its underlining authority >>

Well, of course Christians and ex-Christians will have drastically changed views, but once again I don't think you've appreciated, Mark, that we had views in favour of biblical authority first and our researches demolished that view! Read again what Lüdemann wrote above. Hence it is not fair to appear to lay some sort of moral blame on us and write that it is "more than just evidence" as if we had decided to try a new philosophy or something. Rather the evidence against Christianity is what causes our Christian view to be demolished. Some go quietly, others go kicking and screaming, but it is grossly misrepresentative to imply that in anyway we have chosen or decided to try apostasy. Loosing faith is something that happens to a person, and not a deliberate "choice" despite what Christians are frequently told at church. Unfortunately for Christians they often have to believe that we are deliberately choosing unbelief. If not then it makes the justice of hell look dubious, and heaven rather disturbing. Therefore it "must be" our fault for so radically and wilfully changing our views.

Also would you feel morally admonished if a Muslim accused you of having a drastically different attitude towards the Koran and its underlining authority? Does this also mean you don't have the necessary spiritual eyes to understand the Koran?

You wrote:

<< Those who leave Christianity based on evidence obviously have a different perspective than those who chose to stay based on that same evidence. >>

Again, any different perspective is one we got at or after deconversion. i.e. we did not have the perspective of an ex-Christian or skeptic/atheist etc. whilst we were still Christians! We were Christians who became convinced we were wrong and hence then became ex-Christians.

Although you did not explicitly state this, a casual reader might read your sentence as if you personally think ex-Christians choose to leave and I want to reiterate that I do not find this to be the case. In my previous response I wrote:

Nobody really "chooses" to disbelieve in Christianity whilst a Christian - as if they were looking for a reason to reject it - quite the opposite is the case! How we can testify to pouring over books of apologetics and asking in prayer for guidance as our faith was crumbling! It is a gut-wrenching discovery that Christianity is untenable. Plenty of current Christians appear to have enormous difficulty understanding this. Most people become ex-Christians because their closer examination of Christian claims convince them that supernatural Christianity is unwarranted. We neither choose to disbelieve in Christianity nor are we responsible for the beliefs that happen to us. On the other hand, if others strive to believe things, and think that believing things is a virtue, then maybe those people are responsible for dishonesty. The responsibility issue lies in investigating ones beliefs. One can choose to investigate but cannot honestly, or morally, "choose" what to believe.

Since you wrote:

<<Those who leave Christianity based on evidence obviously have a different perspective than those who chose to stay based on that same evidence. >> I would like to ask for your opinion on those who "chose" to stay a Christian. How can one "choose" beliefs?


This is a very weak criticism, since as the Freethought Zone website points out, the argument from evil is still one of the most powerful problems for a religion like Christianity. Whatever Epicurus' original argument was, that the problem of evil is an ancient and difficult problem for Christianity really ought to be obviously the point.

Nevertheless, even if a member of a freethought group did find a certain argument weak, it does not matter. Unlike the bible for Christians, there is not an authority I have to submit to. Rather it is the quality of the arguments that convince or not. I do not agree that the free will defence is a sound theodicy and I'm sure you have seen the powerful arguments against the FWD on the secular web to compare with the sketchy comments apparently raised in favour on the Freethought Zone website.

However, to finish their quote, what they actually said was

"This may be a reasonable rebuttal to Epicurus' argument, but it really does not apply to the modern version of the Argument from Evil, since not all evil is the result of free will."

Since Epicurus only mentioned "whence cometh evil?" rather than specifying whether evil was caused by free agents or nature, the Freethought Zone website's assessment that Epicurus' argument only applies to evil that is the result of free will does not hold. I think it rather unlikely that Epicurus was unaware of evils that befall mankind as a result of nature. Also as far as I am aware, the Free-will argument arose with medieval thinkers - particularly Thomas Aquinas and Mamonidies, so it is unlikely to be what Epicurus was referring to almost 1,500 years earlier! In fact, Aquinas admits at the beginning of the Summa theologica that the problem from evil is the best argument against the existence of God.

As you know I raised Epicurus to point out that centrally difficult problems for Christianity are not confined to the 21st Century. So I think my point that the argument from evil is an old and difficult argument for Christians to handle is quite valid!

A reasonable approach?

Finally, you ask if I can identify with and think reasonable that "quality apologetics seeks to *understand* the difficult portions of the Bible."

Is this not special pleading? Is it quality apologetics to seek to understand the difficult parts of the book of Mormon/Koran etc?

What is the reasonable apologetic that can understand in what context is it right for God to kill David's baby and arrange for his wives to be raped for a crime only David had committed (2 Samuel, chapter 12)?

Until one is convinced that such behaviour is reasonable and can be shown why apologetics efforts for Christianity should be given more weight than apologetic efforts for any other religion, how can anyone identify with understanding the difficult portions of the bible as a reasonable approach? As I pointed out previously, the behaviour of the biblical God is often dreadful, and I can understand, but not find reasonable, Christians' desire to excuse him for it, just as I can understand, but not find reasonable, the attempts of abused wives to excuse their husbands.

So, should I think it reasonable that "quality apologetics seeks to *understand* the difficult portions of the Bible?" What do you think? Do you advise the use of quality apologetics for Islam when evaluating it, or should people critically examine its claims? Which is most reasonable?

Remove all special pleading and where are quality apologetics?

That's enough for now. Thanks for the opportunity of mouthing off, and I welcome further discussion on this.




Leaving Christianity: